The Complexity of Strategy: The Fog of War

        The 2003 documentary Fog of War, directed by Errol Morris, is an elaborate and poignant film which dives into the complexities and intricacies which faced former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara during the cold war. The film, which won an Oscar for Best Documentary in 2004, is a detailed account of the political decisions made behind closed doors and of the life of one of the most accomplished Americans in the twentieth century. Though the films covers the years from World War II through the Vietnam War, the situations faced and the lessons learned mirror many of the debates and crises our country is facing today.

        McNamara has lived a life full of controversy and attention. He served under President Kennedy and Johnson during Vietnam, was the first President of Ford Motor Company who was not a member of the Ford family, and was a high level strategist in World War II. Constantly in the spotlight, McNamara was constantly under pressure from decisions he made, and even ones that were out of his control; decisions that were as popular as some made in the twenty-first century by former Secretary of Defense Rumsfield. As the saying goes, and as McNamara says in the film, it is easy to understand the complexities of and mistakes from political and military decisions when analyzing with hindsight.

        It is not very often that a man is able to describe first person observations and release previously classified or sensitive information, and for this reason Fog of War is one of the most informative accounts of many Cold War conflicts. McNamara knows how close we came to war, on multiple occasions, with Russia. He was in the room with Kennedy throughout the Cuban missile crisis; he heard the warmongers' cries for attack and the pleas from other members of the cabinet for a peaceful resolution. One of the most astounding stories in the film describes the account of the time when, years later, McNamara met with Castro in Cuba. He asked, "One, did you know the missiles were in Cuba. Two, would you have recommended that the Russians fire at the U.S. And three, what do you think would have happened to Cuba if they did. Castro responds that he did know, and there were over 150 missiles on the island. Castro insisted that he would not have thought about recommending to fire, because he did recommend it. And three…Cuba would be destroyed.

        There are times when McNamara becomes emotional over some of the decisions he had made, and the ramifications of these choices. In WWII he was in charge of determining the most effective bombing runs America could make upon Japan; effectiveness being determined by the highest amount of casualties. One such decision meant that one day 100,000 Japanese were incinerated by firebombs. One cannot understand how that many deaths weigh on one's conscience. When talking about Vietnam, McNamara admits mistakes and reveals the opinions he had held and voiced to the President. Rarely heard recordings between McNamara and Kennedy and Johnson, show the true inter-workings of the White House. McNamara also admits the difference between the type of war America thought it was fighting and that of the Vietnamese. They were fighting for independence from colonial oppression, while we were in the middle of combating communism in the Cold War.

        A documentary such as this shows the person which lies behind the public persona a politician must have while in office. It shows the brutality of war and offers insight into many controversial times in America's history, times that had aroused discontent amongst many citizens. Fog of War is a film that anyone interested in history, or that remembers these fateful days described, should view. The film can change one's opinion of how the government works and why it has made, and will make its decisions.

Taylor Sutton

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